Cubas best car rental guide

The 2023 Guide to Car Rental in Cuba

Buses are often full, or the online booking system on Viazul doesn’t work all the time.   Private transfers are expensive.  You don’t want to squish into an uncomfortable colectivo.   There are all sorts of reasons why you might look at car rental in Cuba.  After all, no doubt when you go on vacation to other parts of the world it’s a cinch to rent a car, despite, perhaps needing a little extra paperwork and insurance.  Cuba, however, is different.  In lots of ways.    Here’s all you need to know about renting a car in Cuba.

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How do you get around Cuba?

The vast majority of independent visitors to Cuba use one of three methods of Cuban Transport to get around Cuba.  The Viazul Bus (our guide is here), private transfers, or colectivos.  Colectivos are primarily shared taxis.  However, in planning an itinerary around Cuba it’s easy to get frustrated with Viazul Buses that only go to the airports once a day (and usually nowhere near the time when a flight lands or takes off).  Or transfers that seem inordinately expensive, for what, at home, would be a two-hour ride.

Transport in Cuba is very different from what we’re all used to at home.  Roads aren’t in as good a condition.  Livestock often roam wild, making driving at night somewhat more dangerous and difficult than in other parts of the world.   There are a whole lot of reasons why transport here in Cuba is very different.

And so, the option of renting a car comes up.

Should you rent a car in Cuba in 2022?

TLDR:  Here’s what you need to consider

  • Fuel – i.e. gas (petrol) and diesel are much more expensive for private individuals than they are for licensed transport operators, buses, and government vehicles. 
  • Depending on when you are traveling there may be fuel shortages, which often lead to rationing of fuel.  
  • Insurance is a major requirement
  • Booking a car can be time-consuming, frustrating, and sometimes nigh on impossible
  • You’ll need to have a reasonable level of Spanish to organize a rental car in Cuba – you are unlikely to find many fluent English speakers in this sector

But, the freedom and independence, well that’s pretty awesome!

Why Rent A Car in Cuba?

Renting a car in Cuba gives you the same type of freedom that it does anywhere else.  Hiring a car in Cuba gives you the flexibility of schedule and the ability to get more off the beaten track.  Using rental cars in Cuba also means that you can travel outside the schedules of the Viazul Bus and the train service. 

Renting a Car in Cuba – The Details

In Cuba, it’s not as simple as jumping online finding the best deal for a hire car and booking it.  It’s somewhat more complex.  So here’s what you need to know about car rental in Cuba.

How far in advance should you book a rental car in Cuba.

If you wait until you get to Cuba to try and get a rental car you’ll likely just waste several days of your vacation.  There is a very limited inventory of Cuban rental cars.   Like many things in Cuba, it’s inefficient, compared to what you’re used to.  You’ll need to start looking at least 90 days (3 months) in advance.  If you find a car, book it.  Don’t shop around.  You won’t find a better deal.  Trust me.

How much does it cost to rent a car in Cuba?

There isn’t the same competition between rental car companies in Cuba that there is in a lot of the rest of the world.  (You won’t find Hertz and Alamo here).    The basic rate of renting a car in Cuba is US$49 a day.  On top of that cost, you’ll pay insurance of between US$20 and US$40 a day.  And annual insurance for rental cars is extremely unlikely to be valid in Cuba.  Then there are extra costs for additional drivers, gas, and drop-off fees.  You’ll also be expected to tip.  (I know, what? Stay with me).

Paying deposits for rental cars in Cuba

When you collect your rental car (and before you drive it away), you will also need to pay

  • A security deposit (usually between US$150-US$250)
  • For a full tank of gas
  • Car insurance
  • For any additional drivers (US$3-US$5 per additional driver, with a max of two additional drivers)

Renting a car in Cuba is NOT a budget option for travel.

Be aware of potential penalties when renting cars in Cuba

You should also be aware of penalties that might be levied on you when renting a car in Cuba.

  • If you return the car in a dirty state:  US$50
  • If you transport animals in the car:  US$50
  • If you lock the keys in the car:  US$100
  • If you lose the car keys:  US$200

Things to be aware of when renting a car in Cuba

  • You should never leave your Cuban rental car unsupervised.  Always pay someone – it just needs to be a few dollars – to look after it.  Or park somewhere where there’s an official parking attendant. 
  • Tires are NOT covered on Cuban rental car insurance.  And they’re easy to steal and easy to sell.
  • Rental cars in Cuba do not have GPS fitted.  If you haven’t bought a Cuban SIM card (read how to here), or if your cellphone service doesn’t allow roaming in Cuba, then you’ll need to download maps before setting off (use downloadable Google Maps, or maps.me) or go real old school and buy a paper map of Cuba.
  • Cuban Rental cars are marked with a “T” on them.  This makes you very visible.  Don’t leave any valuables on show in the vehicle.  Make sure it’s never parked in an unattended spot.
  • Fuel shortages are common and service stations are few and far between especially when you leave the major tourist center.  Fill your tank whenever you can.

What documentation do you need to rent a car in Cuba?

To rent a car in Cuba you will need a valid driver’s license.   You can drive a car in Cuba on your driver’s license for up to six months without having to swap it for a Cuban license.   You don’t need an International Drivers Permit.

You’ll need your passport and also a credit card that will work in Cuba.  You must also be at least 21 years old to rent a car in Cuba.

How to pay for a rental car in Cuba

You can’t pay cash for a rental car in Cuba.  You must pay with a credit or debit card.  And that credit or debit card CANNOT be from a US bank and the transaction cannot be made in US dollars either.

What type of car can you rent in Cuba.

The types of cars that are available to rent in Cuba are primarily Asian and European brands.  You’ve unlikely to have much choice.  It may also be that the car you reserve is not the car you end up renting.

And.  Sorry folks.  No, you can’t rent a classic car in Cuba.  You can rent a classic car and driver, but not the car to take away on your own.    Classic cars in Cuba are old.  They’re more than 60 years old in many cases, they’ve been nursed through years, painstakingly put back together and restored, but they have 60-year-old technology.  They rarely have seatbelts and don’t have airbags. 

If you want to take a ride in a classic car, then rent yourself a car and driver for a specific route – like the Malecon in Havana or a short tour.  (here are some options).

Picking up your rental car

Make sure you fully inspect your rental car before you leave the rental location, document any damage to the car, and make sure this is registered with the rental company.  You are likely to find that the maintenance of rental cars in Cuba isn’t quite what you’re used to.

Returning your rental car

When you return your rental car, check it fully, with the rental agent if you can, to confirm that there is no damage that you’ve caused.

Special Rules on Car Rental if you are American

If you’re American, then you should avoid renting a car from an organization that benefits the Cuban Military.   It’s illegal for Americans to spend money with the commercial part of the Cuban military.  Here’s a full list of military-run businesses.

Car Rental Companies in Cuba

There are four major car rental companies in Cuba.  They’re all state-owned.  These Cuban rental car companies are

  • Havanautos
  • Cubacar
  • Rex
  • Via Renta Car

Via Renta Car is owned by Transgaviota, which is associated with the Cuban Military.  (US Citizens should NOT use this company).  The other three companies are branches of the largest tourist transportation company in Cuba, Grupo Transtur S.A.

None of these companies have an online presence that allows you to book online. 

Where to rent a car in Cuba

There are other options for renting a car in Cuba.  These organizations have commercial relationships with the major rental companies and are (sometimes) able to provide online booking and reservations.  But.  Remember, this is Cuba.  You’ll like need some (aka a lot of) patience.

TUI Car Rental In Cuba

TUI Car Rental is part of the main TUI holiday brand.  Renting a car from TUI cars means that you’ll get

  • Top Insurance with fully comprehensive cover
  • Liability Insurance
  • Free Cancellation & Amendment
  • Customer friendly fuel arrangements
  • Second driver free of charge

You can request a quote and reservation from TUI cars in Cuba here

Holiplus Car Rental in Cuba

Holiplus offers car rentals, holidays, and accommodation in Cuba and other Caribbean destinations.

You can request a quote and reservation from Holiplus in Cuba here.

Renting a car in Cuba privately

You may find, if you ask around, Cubans renting cars privately.  Or, if you look on revolico.com  – a classified ads site – you could find cars for rent there.  You should be very wary of this, as the car rental is likely to be illegal.

Driving in Cuba

There is very little private car ownership in Cuba and there is little other road traffic in Cuba, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything else on the road. 

While you drive on the right in Cuba, if there is an overtaking lane you’ll find that many drivers in Cuba remain in the overtaking lane, as you’ll find pedestrians, cyclists, and slow-moving vehicles, sometimes pulled by animals in the right-hand lane.

What to expect on the roads in Cuba

Many of the roads, both in and outside of towns and cities, in Cuba are NOT in a good condition.  Heading down the island towards Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, and Guantanamo, you’ll find quite a lot of unpaved roads too. 

Railway lines often cross the roads in Cuba too.  There aren’t that many trains, but there are few if any barriers.  It goes without saying that if there’s a train, the train has the right of way.

There aren’t many traffic signs on Cuba roads.  There are lots of loose animals around, especially once you get out of the towns.  Add to that there are hitchhikers – mostly Cubanos looking to get between places – and street vendors.  

Be aware that there may be potholes on the other side of the road as well, which means that traffic coming towards you may be on your side of the road!

You’ll definitely need your wits about you.

Don’t drive at night.  It’s not worth it.

Speed Limits on Roads in Cuba

Cuban speed limits on roads differ by the road. 

  • In the city, the Cuban speed limit is 24-31 mph
  • On rural roads in Cuba, the speed limit is 37 mph
  • On highways in Cuba, the speed limit is 60 mph

The signs designating the speed limits may be missing, or might never have been erected.  Be aware.  It’s not uncommon to find one of the traffic police waiting.  You’ll be fined if you’re speeding.  Make sure you have all your documentation with you.

Gas for your rental car

It’s no secret that there have been fuel shortages in Cuba in recent years.  There are often limits to how much gas you can buy at once.  Once you get out of the main towns and cities gas stations are in short supply.  If there are shortages during your visit then you’ll have to join the line like everyone else.

You might think that gas is cheaper in Cuba than it is at home, and it likely is, but the primary issue is supply. If a gas station is dry then the fact that this is 20% cheaper than at home is irrelevant.

You will need to pay for gas either by credit or debit card or with Cuban pesos.  You’ll need to check at each gas station if they are accepting credit/debit cards.  Foreign currency will NOT be accepted at gas stations for fuel. You can read our guide to Cuban Currency here.

You can also buy prepaid fuel cards (with your credit or debit card) to the value of 25, 75, 125, 500, and 1250 pesos.   These prepaid Cuban fuel cards are single-use.  So if you buy a 75 peso fuel card you need to buy 75 pesos of fuel.

Fuel in Cuba will also cost you more than the official transport providers and Viazul Buses. That’s because official transport providers – like Viazul Bus and the licensed taxi drivers and transfer companies get a special rate. You do not.

It’s ok to pick up hitch-hikers in Cuba

Actually, it’s the norm.    The Cuban word for hitchhiking is “Botella”.  In Cuba is safe to pick up hitchhikers and it’s a recognized way of traveling especially between cities.  You’ll likely pick up some great tips and learn a lot about the country if you pick up hitchhikers. 

What happens if you have a traffic accident in Cuba?

If you have a traffic accident in Cuba you must inform the rental car company and the authorities.  You must not leave the scene of the accident until both the authorities and the reps from the rental car company arrive. 

Even the US embassy advises that if you’re involved in a traffic accident in Cuba you may be banned from leaving the country until all claims have been investigated and settled.  

It can take up to 6 months for the court case to take place.  And no, you cannot leave until it has been resolved.  If you are found to be responsible for an accident that causes serious injury or death you can be sentenced to a prison term of up to ten years. 

Essential Resources for Exploring Cuba

Travel and Health Insurance is mandatory for entry to Cuba. If you have medical bills while there you won’t be allowed to leave the country until they’re settled.

You will need a Cuba Tourist Card to enter Cuba – some airlines include these, if yours doesn’t, buy one from EasyTouristCard – now valid for 90 days!!

Book your Viazul Bus tickets here

Pre-book and prepay shared & private shuttles here

Book the best FREE Walking Tours in Cuba

Reserve attractions, day trips, and activities in Cuba here

Download and install a VPN BEFORE you travel to Cuba > discount coupon here

Book Accommodation in Cuba’s Casa Particular here

Pack these Items – you’re unlikely to find them in Cuba

Final Words on Car Rental in Cuba

Traveling around Cuba is part of the experience of the visit to the island.  It’s often a challenge, sometimes frustrating and you’ll meet a whole lot of different people.  But it’s very different to traveling in other countries.  And the experience of renting a car in Cuba is different too.  It’s not for everyone and it takes patience.  You should consider the pro’s and cons of renting cars in Cuba, and look at what it is that you’re trying to achieve and if renting a car is the best way to visit, for you and your travel style.  Whatever you decide, best of luck and keep me posted as to how you get on!

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